Climate scientists predict more frequent storms, droughts, floods and heat waves as the Earth warms. Although extreme weather would seem to challenge ecosystems, the effect of fluctuating conditions on biodiversity actually could go either way. Species able to tolerate only a narrow range of temperatures, for example, may be eliminated, but instability in the environment can also prevent dominant species from squeezing out competitors.
"Imagine species that have different optimal temperatures for growth. In a fluctuating world, neither can get the upper hand and the two coexist," said Jonathan Shurin, an ecologist at the University of California, San Diego who led the project. Ecologists have observed similar positive effects on populations of organisms as different as herbacious plants, desert rodents, and microscopic animals called zooplankton.
Now a study of zooplankton found in dozens of freshwater lakes over decades of time has revealed both effects. Shurin and colleagues found fewer species in lakes with the most variable water chemistry. But lakes with the greatest temperature variations harbored a greater variety of zooplankton, they report in the journal Ecology Letters January 21.
Their study considered data from nine separate long-term ecological studies that included a total of 53 lakes in North America and Europe. In addition to sampling zooplankton, scientists had also taken physical measurements repeatedly each season for periods ranging from 3 to 44 years.
From these data, they calculated the variability of 10 physical properties, including pH and the levels of nutrients such as organic carbon, phosphorous and nitrogen. Temperatures and the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water at both the surface and bottom of each lake were also included. The authors also teased apart variation based on the pace of change with year-to-year changes considered separately from changes that occurred from season-to-season or on more rapid timescales.
Zooplankton populations respond quickly to changes because they reproduces so fast. "In a summer, you're sampling dozens of generations," Shurin said. "For mammals or annual plants, you would have to watch for hundreds or thousands of years to see the same population turnover."
At every time scale the pattern held: Ecologists found fewer species of zooplankton in lakes with fluctuating water chemistry and greater numbers of species in those with varying temperatures. The authors noted that the temperature variations they observed remained within normal ranges for these lakes. But some chemical measures, particularly pH and levels of phosphorous, strayed beyond normal limits due to pollution and acid rain.
Environmental variability through time could either promote or reduce biodiversity depending on the pace and range of fluctuations, the authors suggested.
"It may depend on the predictability of the environment. If you have a lot of violent changes through time, species may not be able to program their life cycles to be active when conditions are right. They need the ability to read the cues, to hatch out at the right time," Shurin said. "If the environment is very unpredictable, that may be bad for diversity, because many species just won't be able to match their lifecycles to that."
Shurin's 10 co-authors include scientists from environmental agencies in Canada, and universities and research institutes in Canada, Germany, Switzerland and the United States. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada supported Shurin's work on this study.
Jonathan Shurin | EurekAlert!
Value from wastewater
16.08.2017 | Hochschule Landshut
Species Richness – a false friend? Scientists want to improve biodiversity assessments
01.08.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
17.08.2017 | Materials Sciences